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Restaurant automation has arrived

May 08, 2011|By Lisa Dupuy
  • Selected 2 of 24 | Batch 1 of 17 Specialty's Cafe & Bakery gives the customer the option of ordering via iPads at the 520 N. Brand Blvd. location in Glendale. Above, from top left, clockwise: Cranberry scone, Blueberry cream cheese croissant, Butter croissant, Peach coffee cake and Blueberry muffin.
Selected 2 of 24 | Batch 1 of 17 Specialty's Cafe &… ((Raul Roa/Staff…)

It's official. The future has finally arrived. Just like in "The Jetsons" cartoon, you can now push buttons on a computer and the meal of your choice slides out on a tray. OK, maybe not immediately and certainly not for free, but at the new Specialty's Café and Bakery on Brand Boulevard in Glendale, that's pretty much how it works.

Questionable spelling aside, Specialty's is totally plugged in to the modern, techno-friendly way of doing things. In the middle of the restaurant, there is a bank of iPads at which you place your order. If you've been there before, your preferences immediately pop up. If this is your first time, there are friendly assistants hovering nearby to help you with your order. When it's finalized, you're assigned a beeper number and buzzed when your food's ready. It's simple, fast and elegant. You can order the old-fashioned way, from a human at a register, but what's the fun in that?

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To speed things up even more, busy workers in nearby office buildings can pre-order online and pick up prepared lunch bags in cubby holes by the door. Employees whose job it is to plan corporate lunch meetings will think Specialty's is a gift from above. Their system is a cinch to use, and the menu features an assortment of sandwiches, salads, soups and sweets to please everyone.

The problem is when you're trying to please everyone, nothing really stands out. That's not to say their food is bland; it's just very mainstream fare. By and large, the choices are satisfying and nutritious. Sandwiches include roast turkey, tuna salad and spicy chipotle chicken.

Salads have names like Chicken Cobb and Southwestern Salad. I sampled the Hot Roasted Veggie sandwich ($7.59) which was tasty with its red pepper pesto, goat cheese and fresh baby spinach but it had much more spinach and fewer roasted veggies than in the online photo. The tuna salad sandwich ($5.99) is like what Mom would make but on freshly made thick, soft bread.

The Saigon Salad is one of the more daring choices with a very spicy wasabi dressing on top of delicious smoked pulled pork and Asian-inspired greens ($6.99). The fresh soups of the day are posted every morning at 8 a.m. on their website. The Creamy Chicken Artichoke ($2.99) was delicious but didn't need the thickening agent that was added. The cookies, at $2.19, are pricey and as good as you'd expect — big, fat numbers fresh out the oven with gooey chocolate chunks.

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